The Best Game Boy Model
Over the years, Nintendo has released numerous revisions of its handheld Game Boy family. If you are interested in picking one up, you may feel conflicted about where to start. That’s why I decided to write this so we can discuss and hopefully find out what the best model of Game Boy is.
The best Game Boy model, in my opinion, is the Game Boy Advance SP, keep reading below to see why!
Let’s break down each model: –
The one that started it all, the original Game Boy or DMG-01 as it is known by some was released back in 1989 and was supported until 2003.
The Game Boy’s design is said to be based on the layout of the popular NES controller, with a similar layout including the iconic D-pad, two face buttons and even a start and select button. As its name implies, the Game Boy uses a dot matrix display, a greenish-yellow screen cable of displaying four separate colours, or shades on screen at once.
The Game Boy allowed for a console-style experience on the go and although there were obvious drawbacks due to the four colours of the screen, it did receive a few NES ports and for the most part, the gameplay was great!
Not long after the release of the Game Boy, it faced fierce competition from the Sega Game Gear, the Atari Lynx and the Turbo express which all featured full-colour backlit screens. The Game Boy persevered, partly through the great quality of games Nintendo released and due to its fantastic battery life, oh and it was bundled with Tetris, which was a big deal!
There was a revision made to the original game boy in 1995, known as the “Play It Loud!” campaign. This consisted of bright, vibrant colours including Yellow, Red, Blue, Green and a transparent colour which was very popular in the mid-90s.
Notable games for the Original Game Boy include Super Mario Land 1, 2 & 3, Tetris, Pokémon, Kirby and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.
Game Boy Pocket
Off the back of the “Play it Loud!” campaign came the Game Boy Pocket, a redesigned Game Boy with a newer, smaller form factor for 1996. Even though the Game Boy Pocket was smaller, it retained everything that made the original a success.
At launch, the pocket came in red, yellow, black, green, transparent clear, silver, blue, and pink. Due to progression in screen technology and some clever engineering, the Game Boy Pocket only required 2 x AAA batteries, which is quite impressive considering the original model took 4 x AA batteries to power it.
With the Game Boy Pocket, we had a small change in the screen, gone are the greens and yellows which are replaced with a much nicer black and white screen, which although not backlit, eliminated most screen ghosting issues the original model had issues with.
I would recommend picking up a Game Boy Pocket if you want a classic console with less screen ghosting, the form factor is nice also. (You can mod the pocket to have full backlit IPS screen, which you can pick up from retromodding.com)
Game Boy Light
Released exclusively in Japan in 1998, the Game Boy Pocket is essentially a Game Boy Pocket with an electroluminescent screen. To make way for the new backlit screen a toggle was added to turn the light functionality on and off and the battery compartment was redesigned to take 2 x AA batteries which would power the Game Boy Light for around 12 hours with the light on.
Personally, I wouldn’t bother tracking down a Game Boy Light, unless you are a hardcore collector. There’s plenty of backlight mods that can be done to the Game Boy Pocket which work just as well and at a fraction of the cost of buying this Japanese exclusive console.
Game Boy Color
Released in October 1998, the Game Boy Color is not just a Game Boy with a colour screen, it has four times the amount of S-RAM the original, pocket and light had and twice the amount of VRAM. This was a much more powerful machine.
The GBC is backwards compatible with Game Boy games and can even add a range of colour palettes to previous games, baked into the GBC’s firmware is 90+ predetermined palettes for original Game Boy games. The Game Boy Color feels more like a revision of the Game Boy Pocket with a similar form factor but slightly more rounded edges and a ‘curvy’ battery compartment. The Game Boy Color feels the best of the ‘original’ style Game Boy model to hold in your hands.
This is the only Game Boy model that comes with native connectivity thanks to its infrared port. The port was a nuisance to use but did work. I am sure many a Pokémon were traded this way and I am sure it is a big part of why the infrared port got included in the first place.
Even though the GBC was only around for a few years it had some great games, including Pokémon Crystal, Gold and Silver & Super Mario Bros. Deluxe. Sadly, the GBC was still lacking a backlit screen making gaming in the dark very difficult. This can be fixed these days by installing a Game Boy Colour backlight kit.
Pick this console up if you are interested in GBC and GB games and want to retain the original form factor.
Game Boy Advance
Less than 2 and a half years after the release of the GBC comes the Game Boy Advance in March of 2001. The GBA comes with a radical new design with a wider screen and a shift in orientation to facilitate two additional L & R buttons. This is no doubt the most comfortable console in the whole Game Boy range and fits perfectly into your hands, The L & R buttons have a nice ‘clicky’ feel to them, making it one of the most desirable consoles to mod.
Out of the box, the GBA can play all previous Game Boy, Game Boy Color games and the new Game Boy Advance games. The GBA is often compared to a handheld Super Nintendo, however, the GBA is a 32-bit console offering a lot more power than a SNES. That said, the GBA did receive many Super Nintendo ports including tweaked ports of the Super Mario All-Stars versions of Super Mario Bros 2, 3, Super Mario World and even a version of Yoshi’s Island.
It’s worth mentioning that this is the only model of Game Boy hardware that cannot be played continuously due to lack of the DC input. You would always have to save your game before changing batteries, you can get around this by installing a simple GBA rechargeable battery mod.
There are so many great games for the GBA including Pokémon Fire Red & Leaf Green, Metroid Fusion, Final Fantasy V and a lot more.
Pick this model if you want a Game Boy that feels great in your hand and plays all games. Consider installing a backlit screen to get what a lot of people consider the apex of Game Boy gaming.
Game Boy Advance SP
Released in February 2003, the GBA SP was the first model of Game Boy Advance to offer any kind of light up display and quite the departure in design. The GBA SP is a compact unit in a clam-shell design, luckily this means a lot of second-hand units have quite immaculate screens.
Nintendo released two main models of the GBA SP, the front-lit AGS-001 model first released Feb 14, 2003, & the AGS-101 Backlit model which released roughly around the same time as the Game Boy Micro approximately September 2005.
The GBA SP is compatible with all Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance games and is the first in the range to include an inbuilt rechargeable battery, which is, in my opinion, is a game-changer.
If you want a Game Boy Advance that can play all Game Boy games then I would highly recommend picking up one of these and installing an IPS or an AGS-101 screen, but even the front-lit unit is a great way to play games from all models making it one of the best Game Boy models.
IPS screen kits are now readily available from retromodding.com
Game Boy Player
This addon for the Nintendo GameCube was released in March of 2003 and allows you to play Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance games on your television.
The Game Boy Player is actual GBA hardware and even includes a port for link cables. If you are willing to invest some money, you can get a nice picture out of your Game Boy Player and it’s my preferred way of capturing Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance footage for reviews.
The included Game Boy Player software is not great, but it does get the job done. I would recommend Modding your GameCube and using the software Game Boy Interface to get the best possible experience.
I cannot recommend the Game Boy Player enough, if you have a GameCube you should pick one up.
Game Boy Micro
The last in the Game Boy line, the Game Boy Micro was released in 2005 and as its name suggests is quite small. The Game Boy Micro fits very well in the hand and has a really nice backlit screen, however, a lot of people did not like it as it was just a little too small.
The Micro has very stripped down GBA hardware and can only play GBA games, sadly there is no native support for Game Boy or Game Boy Color games.
The Game Boy Micro came with interchangeable faceplates which are a nice touch, but its quite hard to find a decent replacement these days.
If you are only interested in GBA games, then it might be worth giving the Game Boy Micro some thought, personally, I played an awful lot of Final Fantasy Tactics on mine.
There are a lot of different variants of Game Boy and everyone will have their own unique needs. For me, the best model of Game Boy would be the GBA SP, it has a rechargeable battery, backlit screen and plays every single Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance. The original Game Boy Advance with a backlight mod would be a close runner up, due to the form factor and the ability to play any game for the Game Boy family and finally, the Game Boy Player, although not a handheld, is probably one of the best Game Boy models that you can play at home.